Here are a few further stanzas in the gnomic poem of Viking wisdom, translated from the medieval Norse with a commentary on significance and context. Read the other entries in this ongoing project here. Read the original Old Norse poem here.
A few more verses in my ongoing translation of the Viking poem of gnomic wisdom --
Veiztu, ef þú vin átt,
þann er þú vel trúir,
ok vill þú af hánum gótt geta,
geði skaltu við þann blanda
ok gjöfum skipta,
fara at finna oft.
You must know, if you would wish to have a friend
Who would be true to you
And from whom you would have good in exchange,
Share your thoughts with him,
And exchange gifts,
Fare often to find him.
The verses recognise the exchange that is necessary to feeding a good friendship. While the focus on gifts may seem a bit mercenary to modern readers, we have to take into consideration just how much gift giving has changed: we take it lightly because it is very easy to pick up something from a shop. In the Middle Ages, where survival was much more precarious, any surplus was precious. Giving it away showed great favour. Of course we understand the need to find a like mind with whom we can share our truths, hopes and fears. By such means do we knit relationships that last.
Ef þú átt annan,
þanns þú illa trúir,
vildu af hánum þó gótt geta,
fagrt skaltu við þann mæla
en flátt hyggja
ok gjalda lausung við lygi.
If you have such another one --
He you trust little --
Yet you wish to get goodwill from him, too,
Fair shall you be in speech with him
But cunning in thought
And repay his deceit with lies.
As the great military strategist Sun Tzu observed, it's best to keep friends close -- and enemies closer. The High One agrees that it's best not to tip your hand to those who wish you ill, but continue to speak pleasantly to them as long as possible in the hopes that you might glean something useful from their conversation or thoughts. Though they may also conceal their intentions, often enmity betrays itself in non-verbal ways, too.
Það er enn of þann
er þú illa trúir
ok þér er grunr at hans geði,
hlæja skaltu við þeim
ok um hug mæla;
glík skulu gjöld gjöfum.
Thus ever further with the one of whom
He whom you trust ill
And about whom you have suspicious mind,
You should laugh with him
And speak around your thoughts;
For with like coin should you repay a gift.
More on dealing with those you do not trust. Working environments may offer the best modern analogue to the situation. We all have co-workers with whom we don't trust -- and who may return the favour. The verses suggest that is the wisest course -- repaying false coin with false coin -- but it rubs against our modern notions of directness and honesty. For most of us, that honesty has only social costs. Yet how many people find it easier to be polite to someone they dislike intensely than to plainly state their antipathy? We're not always as honest as we like to think we are.
Ungr var ek forðum,
fór ek einn saman,
þá varð ek villr vega;
er ek annan fann,
maðr er manns gaman.
Young was I once,
I traveled on my own,
When I found myself astray;
Rich I thought myself
When I found another soul --
A human is human pleasure.
While the poet uses the word 'maðr' it's clearly used in the general sense of a person, not gendered specifically. While many of us choose to cherish solitude, imagine a world like the vikings where being alone put your survival at risk. There is not simply the joy of companionship here, but the recognition of the interdependence of community. Consider too the uncertainty of travel without modern maps -- let alone the specifics of satellite navigation. To run across another human when you have traveled on your own for a considerable space of time -- even if you're young and hearty -- must surely be a welcome sight.
This past Sunday, the History Channel debuted its first scripted drama series, VIKINGS. (If you missed it, or if, like me, you don't actually have a television, iTunes had the first episode available for free, at least at the time of writing.)
VIKINGS follows the exploits of a de-mythologized Ragnar Lodbrok, a hero of Viking myths and sagas. Going by the first episode, the show hardly appears to be a straight adaptation of Ragnar's Saga; little about the show's hero remains the same as either the sagas or, as best as I can tell, the best guesses at the historical life of Ragnar. (I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing, though it's a strange choice - nobody in America except serious Viking buffs will even recognize the name, and the people who recognize it will be confused as to why the character doesn't resemble the Ragnar of the sagas. Who knows.)
Comics are my first love. I taught myself to read with Spiderman; my first after-school job primarily financed my $100 a month comics habit. And even today, comics may be my favorite medium, even if I have left the month-to-month antics of superheroes behind me. (Not for outgrowing superheroes, mind you, but because I was fed up with the companies behind them. I'm sure I'll end up ranting about this at some point.)